For those who are nodding along with this article, consider the Obfuscated C contest: http://www.ioccc.org/
That's art. But it's art that most people in the world can't begin to appreciate. You need years of coding experience to really get it. You need context. When hackers sit down and study those works of art, they're not just posing.
A lot of modern art is like that. I look and scratch my head. If I go with a friend who understands the context, they can explain to me the history: movement Z is a reaction to Y, which in turn is a reaction to X. The artist is grappling with themes A and B, and exploring materials C, D, and E.
Many of us can do similar analysis with video games. Look at the Upgrade Complete series, which is a fun set of commentary on games at the same time it's a fun game. Look at the rise of the 8-bit look and sound that harks back to an earlier era. To an outsider, the 8-bit stuff could just seem like shitty graphics, but to many insiders it's awesome and nostalgic and charming. That's art.
Of course, Kongregate and GameStop are both full of shitty games. It'd be easy to write an article like this one, condemning all videos games as crap. But I and many other HN readers are willing to wade through the crap because when you find the gems, they're real works of art. Art requiring context to really understand.
Laypeople look at Rothko and wonder why a guy who made rectangle blobs on canvas is better than all the other guys who thought of making rectangle blobs on canvas. And then you wonder what's the point? The point of art is, depending on your philosophy, variously to improve the mind or the spirit or to provide aesthetic pleasure; it's not to satisfy the intellectual pretentions of art nerds. The obfuscated C contest is a difficult intellectual pursuit and this wouldn't be hard to understand to someone who doesn't know C, but it is hard to explain how Rothko's rectangle blobs or Pollock's scribbles improve the human condition more than anyone else's blobs or scribbles except that these artists happened to fall in the right confluent streams of intellectual nonsense at the right time. The obfuscated C contest is not a thing where you say, "my five-year-old can do that", or that any other Joe could do that should he rub the intellectual establishment the right way. But we live in a world where we take stuff anyone can do and put it in a museum because it has some neat context behind it or something. And so the layperson is completely nonplussed.
If the artist creates something that he would want for himself, for his own living space, even if he knew that nobody else would ever get to see it, I'll accept that it's art, even if I can't stand it. If the artist is working on commission, the rule applies to whoever commissioned it. If it's something he would want for himself for his private island hermitage, okay, it's his art. Different people have different tastes, and this is his. And I'm fine with edge cases such as making things such as children's art under the sincere belief that he would have wanted it for himself if he were a child. I'm not trying for a legalistic definition, just a general principle that, to be real art, it has to satisfy the artist's personal esthetic desires in the complete absence of social payoffs such as statement making, money, being the center of attention in order to feel more significant, trying to build a reputation, etc.
If it would be something he would want for himself--a vibrant blue canvas in a color the artist finds mesmerizing, for example--then I consider it art even if he intends to sell it, get attention, build a reputation, etc.
I doubt most modern art could pass this test. I think most of it is just cynical manipulation of the pathetic and pretentious by the narcissistic and manipulative. If the artist wouldn't have any interest in it in the absence of an audience, it's just a product.
Of course, I can't know for sure what the artist's motivations were for a piece, but that doesn't matter. My definition of fraud doesn't require me to be able to spot it.
When [help me here] "installed" a live donkey "to symbolise his inability to come up with a good idea" that's piss.
That said there is plenty of excellent modern art. If you live in/near a wealthy city, this is easily verified.
I think a lot of the irritating attitude is the support of people who all do the same thing. Same way when your friend makes a new web app you're not going to say it sucks even if it does because (a) they're your friend and (b) you are going to want moral support for your next web app at some point.
I guess you are only applying this rule in a negative way - if people DON'T want what they produce then it's not art to you?
But if it's not something you'd ever want yourself but, for example, you made it as a vehicle to gain notoriety or money, then it's not art, as far as I'm concerned. I don't owe your childish demand for attention or $20,000 "statement about capitalist oppression" any reverence just because you claim it's art.
You entirely undervalue the social context of objects, including objets d'art.
A lot of people might value something because it goes against the grain of social and cultural context. Those things might be more interesting or provoke different thoughts or perspectives.
A lot of artists strive very hard to produce something new which is, at its essence, nearly impossible. The distance you have to go to get somewhere uncharted is vast indeed.
If people think art is easy they should struggle to create some themselves. It will take years to be able to produce something that isn't immediately recognizable as either too unrefined for serious consideration, too obviously derivative, or so done to death it's a cliche.
It captures the essence of the struggling artist, and their perhaps seemingly mediocre output, better than anything else I've ever read before.
Also keep in mind that when people look at art, they're often placing the artist somewhere along this path into the uncharted; appreciating their struggle and being curious about where they will move next.
I think what you are describing is "art I don't really see the merit of". Modern art - as understood by most people - encompasses Van Gough through Matisse, Hockney through Warhol.
Is the work of Dali an "allergic reaction"? How about Roy Lichtenstein? How about Jackson Pollock? How about Tracey Emin? Where do you draw the line here?
If you draw the line at the point where you stop seeing the artistic merit, and if you start defining art from that purely subjective view point, you're surely missing out. What about artists who fall just past the line where you see the artistic merit? Is it possible you just don't understand that work? Will you start to define art as purely mechanical skill? If not, where will you define it?
I leave you with: https://xkcd.com/793/
Because in the many times I have seen this argument, it always seems to go the same way. There is a Philistine sneering at some boring or obscure objects, and there is an angry Defender of Art who treads a fine line between (on one hand) a bland modern schoolteacher's orthodoxy which says nothing can be excluded and (on the other hand) a haughty attitude that the boring object is really better than some other boring objects - you know, to those with REAL discernment - and that the Philistine probably loves airbrush art and Thomas Kinkade and the pre-Raphaelites (hee hee hee). There is a huge dogpile of smug people on the Philistine, whose populist persecution complex is encouraged. The Defender (who often enough is just an undergraduate with a little art history or a 35mm camera), is just fueling the Philistine, and the Philistine is fueling the Defender, and so on forever.
If I am bothered by any specific art, it is the pieces which use yet another random object to draw out this same discussion we have been having for over 50 years.
I don't really object to a totally stoned view of the world where everything is interesting period, and maybe it really is useless to talk about art. That seems to me at least consistent, and not a perpetuation of the same crummy drama used to endlessly propagate the modern orthodoxy. On the other hand, if someone wants to actually try excluding something from art then that also provides a starting point for an actual discussion of some kind.
Did you add the "s" manually, for, I dunno, the sake of art ;) ?
I value aesthetics more than art. It's much better defined. Not everything that looks nice is an art, but in worst case you're left with something that looks nice ;-).
"Aestethics" doesn't really require anything to look good.
Personally, I think LMFAO and Robyn looks absolutely terrible. But that tickles some part of my brain, and I enjoy the aestethics of it, in all it's uglyness.
The whole "my five year old can do that" argument is a bit tired. That's similar to the arguments that music using electronics is not art, etc… By itself, why should the amount of efforts necessary to produce something matter at all ? Besides, a lots of people engaging in "garbage looking art" were actually very skilled from a traditional POV, but went a way where they would not use it conventionally. Note also that similar issues arise for older art forms: it is fair to say that most people are put off by classic zen gardens (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryōan-ji). There is much less social proof at work there, and yet, couldn't you make the same argument about them ? Would you dismiss them as easily ?
Regarding Rothko or Klein, some people really like his art, without claiming to be particularly knowledgeable about art. Don't forget also that the famous stuff is generally a limited period of an artist production. Rothko did not just pain rectangles, Pollock dripping period was relatively short, etc...
Except Rothko was a lousy artist before he hit on the black on black rectangle thing. A study of his development as an artist shows somebody who is almost talent free.
I think the point is that much of modern art is so self referential that it has become almost devoid of any sort of external meaning. This is easy to observe. Sit for a few hours in the modern art wing of your local free public museum and observe as the man on the street barely holds back snickers and gafaws at the absurdity of some of the work.
I'm reminded of a tour through the Vatican art collection, perhaps one of the finest in the world. The crowds were bunched around some of the great statuary and paintings (even ones they didn't formerly know). Near the end of the tour, the viewer is thrust into the modern art collection. The crowds suddenly stop bunching and most people can't wait to get through it.
This seems on its face backwards. What should be more relevant to the modern viewer, statues of a dead religion in a language nobody natively speaks or religious art made by their peers and contemporaries?
I accept that you think he was almost talentless, but he wasn't. I think he was a great talent long before he became well known for the typical rothko stuff, and it wasn't just talent in the modern sense but also in the craft sense, when he was a figurative painter especially of new york scenes (try googling his painting of the new york subway).
Your anecdote about the vatican collection is a good one. But it doesn't mean that modern art is worthless, or even suggest that it is.
There's a lot of subtlety in rothko's brushwork that most people don't pick up on. Really they're large, complex pictures but on a different level from most painting. I saw about 20 of his paintings in the turner/rothko exhibition in London about three years ago, and seeing them in a space that suits them brings out their impressive quality, and it became hard to see them as "just rectangles" or however you want to put it.
First off, there is some truly great modern art being produced these days. I really think it has to do with the maturing of modern art as a field (see #2 below). Some of the recent Russian surrealists are producing astonishing stuff and there is some absolutely wonderful, delicate, sculpture art coming out of Japan in the last 20 years.
Something I've tried to do when helping my friends to try and appreciate modern art is to explain it in two ways:
1) It's important to understand a work of art as part of a continuum of the artist's individual work. I usually use Picasso as a frame of reference. He started off with a fairly traditional style, some really great stuff, and at a young age. He had a genuine interest and talent for the field. Ciencia y Caridad and even La Salchichona are quite good stuff. So when you look at Picasso through his career, and the transition into his later forms, you can generally see the progression and how he arrived where he did.
2) It's important to understand a work of art given the confluence of history and the actions/reactions of artists. Major shifts in art styles are quite often a reaction to a perceived dead-end to an older form. An older form may have evolved to the point that there simply is nothing more that can be said with this form...it's become an intolerable box of so many arbitrary rules that everybody's work ends up like everybody else's work. To jump out of the box might mean inventing a new form or new direction. Often works of art that are near the beginning of an immature style seem simple, silly or even childish. But those produced as the style matures can end up as quite wonderful. I find the music world provides several great examples of this happening, Classical music (e.g. Mozart) was as much a response to the cruft that had built up around Baroque (e.g. Bach) as anything. A more modern take might be minimalism. One of my favorite composers in the style is Steve Reich. His early stuff I can take or leave, endless experiments with phase and looped recordings blah blah. But some of his later stuff is sublime. Minimalism had matured sufficiently during his own lifetime that it went from screwing around with the interesting rhythms that appear when two pianos play the same phrase slightly out of phase...to intense, layered tapestries of sound that can fill a concert hall.
Try as I might, I can't seem to apply either of these very successfully to Rothko without ending up cynical. If I go with approach #1, I can't seem to come up with a narrative that shows a steady progression. Instead it seems like he simply bounced around from fad to fad, selecting whatever was fashionable at the time that seemed both impenetrable to the layman and required as little effort as possible on his part to paint. His responses to criticisms are usually layers of indecipherable Yoda-like nonsense. He didn't start as an artist very young, and after he did decide to take it up (in his 20s I think!) he didn't really seem to make a serious go at it. He did the equivalent of taking a couple of correspondence classes and hanging around with the currently fashionable crowd. When fashion changed (e.g. Salvador Dali's triumphant shows), Rothko simply switched to a hack tale on whatever was drawing the crowds. It doesn't seem to be a man driven by an insatiable passion to find his own voice. There just doesn't seem to be any sort of recognizable innovation in his work arguably until he starts painting big monotone rectangles. But that's like saying framing a paint sample the last time I painted my living room is "innovative".
Applying #2 is almost as bad. He seemed to be more of a hanger-on to the fashionable club of the day. In startup-ese, he seemed to pivot to the best selling, least effort fad of the year. "What's fashionable this year? Moderne or Abstract Expressionism? Which is easier? Abstract Expressionism it is! I can crank out like 20-30 of these puppies a day!" There's no real progression from his subway figure paintings to his surrealist period to his abstract expressionist period. He just bounces from one to the other. Art appreciation commentators and textbooks try and retrofit this into a narrative of him "stripping away the unnecessary" or "simplifying his work" but it seems like he just came full circle, from somebody who wasn't ever particularly interested in art, and didn't want to put much effort into it, into somebody who just couldn't be bothered in the end. He doesn't seem to fit in as part of the evolution of art since he bounces around between movements (but with the same hamfisted lack of polish or style) and doesn't evolve with them and he definitely doesn't appear to set a direction for the art world to follow in it's next evolving step.
Other than volume (why bother naming them, I'll do colors, then numbers for a while, but then I'll get bored and just not bother) there just doesn't seem to be any skill or point to his work. And there's nothing wrong with that, but we call those kinds of folks "house painters" not "artists". The East wall in my dining room doesn't need a title either.
(full disclosure, I've seen Rothko's work at the National Gallery in the specially constructed Tower exhibit, at the Leeum's small but really well curated modern art collection (though I don't think they displayed his works as well as they could have), the MoMA (of course), the Guggenheim in NYC and Venice, and I think the Musee D'art Moderne in Paris and have really tried to get with it w/r to his body of work including reading a biography about him at some point and watching a documentary about his life)
Sure, art is subject to personal taste, and I'm not saying that anybody is wrong in liking his stuff, it's just that I end up decidedly not enjoying his work and always leave with a cynical taste in my mouth no matter how open minded I go in. But as always with art, it's up to the individual to interpret and enjoy the art. Here's somebody who obviously does http://fuckyeahmarkrothko.tumblr.com/
That's the perspective from which I think it's totally legitimate to say: this is shitty art. Not the initial, "I don't get it so it must be crap" reaction. But trying to see so deeply into it that you can see the fraud or the idiocy.
That is why I really love Banksy in general, and especially Exit Through the Gift Shop. He has such a keen nose for fraud and pretense.
I generally like Banksy too. At first glance I like the aesthetic, and then when pondering a work, I enjoy the satire, symbolism, the cultural references and imagery.
And even if the final work is made in a few moments, I know that he spent time, perhaps hundreds of hours building out the stencil set, planning the piece, choosing a subject, etc. for the final image.
Here's an example: http://forum.deviantart.com/devart/suggestions/1745568/
I'm sure 99% of HN knows about J/K navigation and appreciates when websites implement it. But it's unknown outside the world of software development.
There's a bubble at ConceptArt.org, CGSociety, and every other place where people gather to talk about something. Art bubbles and tech bubbles have a similar problem: convincing people in other bubbles that what you value has value. The art in the article makes more sense when you see it as the product of a bubble. You would need to peer inside the bubble with a guidebook to know what you're looking at.
If you go to a general-interest science museum, they mainly cover science's greatest hist of yesteryear.
Not saying "some five year olds can do that" or even that the argument is ever meaningful. Just a cute video.
Too bad she'll either die of the chemicals or spend the rest of her life hiding from the fame of the past while trying to define herself, or worst, spend the rest of her life trying to retrieve the joy and vision of her former self.
If you don't know the story behind obfuscated C, but only look at the code listing as art, then many people would say "my five-year-old can do that", since it just looks like a bunch of random characters.
It is totally fine not to like art, and not wanting to invest time in understanding it. But there is a difference between not understanding something and proclaiming it "humbug" because you dont understand it.
Literature is art, but literature isn't just a bucket of statements. Indeed, plenty of interesting literature makes use of things that aren't plain statements. If Upon a Winter's Night a Traveller, for example. Its title alone isn't a proper statement, and the book plays with that kind of incompleteness throughout.
The statement version of the book might be something like, "Incomplete statements can be interesting." But that's not art.
I am not nitpicking. I honestly don’t think any sense can be made from leot’s statement. If I am wrong, I invite you to refine it in a way that makes sense. Your earlier refinement (text is not the best medium for every message) makes sense, but the point is that art is not defined as “mediums other than text”, and therefore it isn’t relevant to the previous discussion about art.
"P1: There exists X in the set of (ideas, notions, feelings, etc.) s.t. X cannot be expressed as a combination of statements.
Humans get around P1 by using more than mere statements to express themselves. The consequences of their doing so might be called 'art'."
The word "statement", as opposed to "phrase" or "sentence", was used to draw a distinction between mere statements about facts-of-the-matter and literature. The implication was that "statements" are things like "the sky is blue" or "war is bad", from which semantics can be derived through syntax and the grounding of referents. In other words, I'm implying, here, that "literature" is not a simple collection of statements.
But regardless of the status of literature, i.e., even if literature were a mere collection of statements, are you claiming that every feeling, notion, idea (etc.) that can be expressed† can, in fact, be expressed via text/words/phrases? In other words, are you claiming that (a) language can express everything felt, thought, experienced? Or, alternatively, are you claiming (b) that no non-linguistic medium of expression can express that which is inexpressible by language?
†I'd use "communicated", but I fear someone might take the position that "communicate" only has a technical information-theoretic definition.
Tracey Emin, on the other hand, is nothing more than a name, as demonstrated by this masterpiece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Nicholas_Serota_Makes_an_Ac...
If it needs a long sermon to proclaim it's art, it's probably bullshit 
Modern Art - A Skeptical View 
Consider books of Stanisław Lem and Gene Wolfe. You could say both are difficult to read science-fiction. Both use sophisticated language and long, intricate sentences. After reading several books by each author, I came to this conclusion:
- Lem's books are difficult, but you're getting something out of them. They are thought-provoking, make you see the world or things they refer to in a different light, or contain things no one thought(or described in a book) before.
- Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun"((I read all of it and it wasn't my first Wolfe's book) is difficult for the sake of being difficult. They are references you are not going to get if you are not an euridite. The book is designed for erudites. It's still enjoyable to a point and the vision of the world is interesting. Yet I can't help but notice that almost all references in that book are hollow. They don't serve any purpose. Many characters in the book are named after saints. So what ? Nothing. Some stories characters tell to each other resemble other stories, from Greek myths and whatnot. So what ? Nothing. It's just a reference. The world is thousands years old, and it may be a distorted story from the past. Or maybe not. A quote from wikipedia: "for example, a backyard full of morning glories is an intentional foreshadowing of events in Free Live Free, but is only apparent to a reader with a horticultural background".
Having a feeling that I didn't catch everything I went to several message boards dedicated to Gene Wolfe's books. Surely they can explain what's so great about these books. But they fail to convince me. They keep blabbering about how Severian is an unreliable narrator (there are a few instances of this, but they're not easy to spot). So what ? Nothing. It doesn't change anything in the book, at best it adds another "what if". Severian is a slimy character willing to lie if it benefits him. Move on.
Gene Wolfe's books are huge collections of references which make reader feel warm and fuzzy inside for getting them. If you meet someone who likes his books, it's because they make him feel special and superior. Not because of a great story, action, thought provoking ideas or very memorable characters. Additionally, the books are a big wildcard. They are deliberately kept very vague and appeal to conspiracy theorists. They could be interpreted in any way you wish.
So there you have it - background knowledge. It can be very easily used - and often is - to woo the public because it makes them feel special and superior. When you explain it away, does it make the work more interesting (like Obfuscated C) or you don't care (like Gene Wolfe's morning glories) ?
I'm not going to tell you you're wrong not to like Wolfe. His is a very particular style, and I know people whose literary judgement is at least as good as mine who do not like it.
For my taste, though, taking an intriguing setting, telling a vivid story in it, and not spelling out all the answers is about as thought-provoking as literature comes. I won't pretend I can tell you exactly what happens at the end of the Wizard Knight or the Soldier series, but I can tell you that I've deeply enjoyed rereading them, and plan to continue doing so every few years for the rest of my life, and the mysteries make it more appealing to me, not less.
But the writing is really dry, some parts longer than they need to be, and majority of characters not memorable. I liked Jonas and the encounter with the mad autarch.
Overall, I would rate it 3.5-4 out of 5. It would be a great read if it was a bit more condensed.
As for the boards, they reminded me of the hunt for the fifth replicant among Blade Runner fans. The script was changed and the scene with one replicant was removed, but dialogue still mentioned 5 replicants. The speculations were batshit insane, until Ridley Scott simply said it was an error in the script.
Wolfe does have interesting ideas sometimes. The first book about Latro was fun in a perverse way. A character who completely forgets what he saw yesterday - yet he always found something new to say about his companions. They are shown in different light as they travel. It sure beats Terry Pratchett introducing the Librarian in exactly the same way for the 20th time. At one point the necromancer (in the classical sense) casts a spell and permanently changes to a woman. Aside from a journal entry for one day, Latro never notices. And how could he ?
In fact, in one sense your explanation is painfully ironic, as you seem to consider yourself morally superior to those readers who -- you claim -- read Wolfe for entirely superficial reasons. Are we really stooping so low now as to criticize people for their reading tastes or to second-guess their reasons for reading what they do?
Personally I derive as much pleasure from reading Wolfe as I do from Lem, although I would never compare them. And the key word is "pleasure": I, like I suppose most people, read books to enjoy them. I enjoy Wolfe for many reasons, but "moreal superiority" is not one of them. And I am wary of terms such as "literary significance" to guide my tastes; that's a term for scholars and academics to worry about, as a reader I am concerned with books and stories that affect me emotionally and stimulate me intellectually.
I see your point about Wolfe's complexity being more of a device and less about genuine depth. Despite this, I do enjoy the richness it imparts on the narrative. Wolfe's template is Borges, who uses similar devices and whose stories often have a sort of insular quality where the narrative only exists to create a clever gadget whose cleverness can be admired, but cannot be applied to anything outside itself. For example, Borges has a neat story, The House of Asterion, about a lonely person who roams a large house with many corridors; at the end of the story is killed, and we realize that he's the minotaur in the myth about Theseus.
As for The New Sun, I think that Severian's unreliability is more a ruse (or at best evidence of a flawed character) than an important plot point -- compare this to his Latro trilogy, set in ancient Greece, where the main character, having suffered brain damage, is unable to form new memories, and is therefore genuinely unreliable. The Short Sun also has a character who loses his sense of identity when his mind is merged with another's, and his lack of reliability comes from an inability or refusal to recognize who he actually is.
(Incidentally, while I admire The New Sun greatly, I found its two loose sequels, The Long Sun and The Short Sun, to be much more emotionally stimulating. It helps that the main characters are not borderline sociopaths. They are also less prone to the kind of cryptic connections that are evident in the first book.)
You must admit, it's not a crazy idea that they are being intentionally opaque because the decision of what art is "great" and what is "crap" is not being chosen out of merit, but by the whims of an insider few. Is it really so hard to believe that the artists who are considered "hot" right now are just better at working over these insiders who pick the winners and losers?
Remember I'm responding to the person above who was saying there was a very straight-forward explanation and way to understand art based on X, Y, Z, A & B. If that explanation is so straight-forward, they can probably fit it in a couple of paragraphs.
Regardless, I think saying "well its reeeeally complicated, so we're just not going to explain ourselves at all" is pretty indefensible.
Also, for most contemporary art, there is not even a critical consensus about the work. Most artists hate to describe what their work is about. They might say what experience inspired them to make the piece, or the feeling they had when they were making it, if you're lucky and caught an unguarded moment. And there would be as many reactions to the piece as critics who wrote about it. It's a losing game.
It's OK to want it, I'm just mentioning some of the barriers to it ever happening.
Yes. Yes that's exactly what I want to do. I want to spend a day at the museum, and read, i.e. learn, why some things are important and great art, and others aren't.
> for most contemporary art, there is not even a critical consensus about the work.
What? Then how is any decision made as to what art is featured in these exhibits, and what isn't? Remember, for every piece in one of these exhibits, there are 10 artists getting behind on rent who didn't make it in. Someone decides. Who? How?
If you're trying to counter my current argument, which is that this is all arbitrary and picked by some insiders at their whim, you should be aware that you're actually kind of helping my case here...
About "no critical consensus": Saying there's not consensus about meaning, doesn't mean curators don't know if there's value in the work.
Lots of times people know work is good, they just don't agree on why. It takes time to figure out whether it's a dead end or not, or to see where the artist goes with a line of work.
Here's another one: there's lots of work that is loved by even sophisticated collectors, but unliked by artists. (E.g.: large-scale paintings that "look like art" but are not new.) There's lots of work that is liked by curators, but not by many artists or collectors (e.g., work grounded in complex theories).
"arbitrary and picked by some insiders at their whim":
The artistic community operates outside your judgement and scorn. Go in expecting to learn something, and maybe you will.
Two examples here. The first was a plaque describing half a painting as being painted black for whatever reason. Sure, given the painting, if you stood back about 20 meters, it looked black. But from only a few meters, it was clearly a mottled purple and black. How can I trust the interpretation of the curator if they can't even get the colour correct?
The other example was another artist who took a number of photos of beachgoers, in such a way that most of them had a single person and a vast expanse of sand or water. The blurbs said 'exploring the loneliness blah blah'. Only problem was, the people in the photos were clearly enjoying themselves (one photo of a group of people 'looking off behind as if in fear' had the four folks looking back laughing). Add in to this that in my country, having a beach to yourself is bliss. In this case, the curator wasn't wrong - the plaques were describing what the photographer meant to capture. The context was that the photos were taken just after the 9/11 attacks and it was what he was feeling - isolation and loneliness. But I couldn't make those photos match that context.
So, lesson learned: experience art for yourself, then see if the artist or curator has anything which might add to the experience.
That might not be a bad thing if the response is: "That's garbage", which is my response to most "art".
If you're expecting that it should also be in your top 10%, well, then you have created yourself an expectation. If eventually that stops being fun, there are other things you can do.
> Further, the "intention of the artist" is completely lost if there is no explanation, and the work is shown in a gallery without context.
However, some of the strongest form of art today (prehistoric cave painting) have lost all of their context and hope of being understood. I think we can manage without any explanation most of the time.
"Before the Fall, when they wrote it on the wall, and there wasn't even any Hollywood..."
If you want to understand it, go take an art history class. Then you'll have the attention of somebody whose job it is to explain basic art concepts to you. That's not the job of anybody at a typical gallery or art opening.
Give me a break.
I at no point said, "Gosh, you can understand all art easily after 3 sentences of explanation". Which you should have gotten by analogy; a layman can't get one of the IOCCC entries after a short explanation, and a non-gamer won't really appreciate Upgrade Complete if it's the first game they've ever played. They can get that there's something to get, but they can't possibly fully understand a work in context until they understand the context.
Either your friend's explanation improved your experience at that museum/gallery, in which case I say "Put it on a plaque", or it didn't because our understanding of art can't be improved by any kind of brief explanation and really you need to "take an art history class" as you directed us to do. So which is it?
My conclusion is this: if including any kind of explanation --short, long, anything-- can improve the average person's experience at a museum or gallery, then they should do so. The fact that they don't makes a lot of people skeptical about the entire thing, which is a shame.
Also, I didn't say that a plaque-sized bite of text can't improve things. What I'm saying is that you won't necessarily get a work after reading one. Try it yourself. Take one of the IOCCC works and try writing a short paragraph that will explain it to the general-audience viewer.
And I didn't tell everybody to take an art history class. I told you to take one. Because then your arrogant, entitled-to-be-spoon-fed attitude might possibly be appropriate when you're actually paying somebody to educate you.
Modern art museums are not somehow legally obligated to make you happy. (Neither, for that matter, am I.) If you don't like the way museums are run, you have a problem. If you want to understand the art, you can go put in the time like everybody else did.
* This entry is an entire flight simulator/3d demo/fractal generator/graphical chess program in like a quarter of a page! Wow!
There, I've already covered most of the entries in a very easy explanation. Oh, and a lot of them put the source code into a cutesy shape or substitute out normal "C" words to confuse the reader. It's easy to point out features like that too.
* The C language lets you list word replacements to apply to your program before turning it into machine code. For example you can turn every "NEXT" into "start_printer(); feed_page(); shutdown_printer();". It's a great timesaver. You can also use it to say 'dump this entire file here' and centralize code that's used a lot. This entry has hundreds of replacements and does that entire-file-inclusion over and over. It uses tricky methods with all this replacement to pre-calculate the answer to a math problem before it's even turned into machine code. So the actual machine code ends up doing zero computation before outputting the answer.
* This program was being cute. Normally it's tricky to write a program that prints its own source code, because it's like making a sentence that contains itself. But turns out that some compilers will turn a blank file into machine code that does nothing. And doing nothing means you get a blank file for output. They changed the rules after that.
The last example is like a good example about modern art. It makes a point and pokes fun at the rules but you can only make so many clever observations about any particular thing. Almost every winning IOCCC entry has a legitimate purpose. And you can explain the purpose. Even though explaining the joke will never be as funny as natively understanding it. In art, explaining the purpose (even if it's something simplistic like capturing a scene) can expose those pieces of 'art' that have nothing to them (like the ones made by people with too much superglue and a desire to be 'shocking').
Also upgrade complete lays bare its jokey demeanor in the first couple seconds of menu, before you even reach any references or old-school graphics. You may not fully 'appreciate' the game but you can certainly understand and enjoy it without being a gamer.
However, starship was upset that the plaques weren't sufficient to make him get the artwork as a novice. I think you'd agree that explaining each work fully is impractical; there's just too much context that's relevant.
However, that's sort of like going to a natural history museum and expecting to see the whole ursine evolutionary history and ecology explained next to every bear. There will be a little plaque with the basics, but the typical viewer knows a lot of the basics and is a repeat visitor, so they are expected to learn these things over time.
These days I'm perfectly happy to bring up Wikipedia when at a museum.
In fact, as I recall, there was such a plaque next to almost every exhibit in the entire museum.
You go back to the novel and reread all relevant passages. You decide that not only is facet=X an internally consistent interpretation within the canonical text, but that facet=Y would lead to a contradiction. (Hey, authors are fallible and don't necessarily imagine non-contradictory worlds.)
So what is the "ontological" status of the interpretation where facet=X and the interpretation where facet=Y? Throw in that possibly either the author's intention isn't easily described in extant words, or that the author had no specific intention regarding `facet`, or otherwise multiple conflicting interpretations can still claim validity. Maybe the authors, artists, musicians are smartest to let audience members enjoy the work for their own personal reasons, without ruining a perfectly fine interpretation some individual takes.
Ahem. 'Scuse me, while I kiss this guy.
If someone tries, he can inject enough meaning to any artform using historical context, including this http://www.viceland.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/img_85...
But the point is that art should not be confused with history.
Artists grow up seeing art. They learn the techniques of the previous generation. But then they strike out on their own, doing something new. They spend decades exploring, growing, and changing.
I do seriously think that there are a lot of video games that are totally unapproachable unless you've played a lot of other video games. Try it sometime: take somebody who doesn't play games and sit them down with some top games. The amount you have to explain is incredible. To somebody here I can say "tower defense with shooter elements and a complicated skill tree". For a non-gamer, that's a ton to figure out; without coaching they'll just poke at it for a bit and walk away. But that's ok, because the audience isn't the non-gamer.
And then there are the games that are full of cultural references or in jokes. Upgrade Complete may be mildly enjoyable on its own, but the reason it gets such a high rating is the brilliant play with the many tropes and ideas of modern video games.
That's art. And contemporary art is generally like that but more so. Video games have to function as games, but art can be what it wants.
Taking your Obfuscated C contests as an example, even if the source files look like gibberish to your average citizen (or average programmer), you could at least explain why it's special. And it wouldn't be that hard to see, for anyone, why creating a winning entry takes a lot of technical skill and creativity and that not just anyone could do it.
Having said that, the best way to learn to appreciate visual art is to learn to sketch. You don't have to become Leonardo, but simple observational drawing is a great way to train your eye and brain to see better and as a side benefit you will understand a lot of the language of art better.
Not the only way by any means. Reading art history, looking at paintings from different periods, reading articles on art theory can get you going too. Talk to other people about the stuff they like; especially the stuff that puzzles you. Don't automatically assume that they are "faking it" or "being pretentious", though they may; people are people. But if a lot of people are interested in something, there's often something worthwhile there.
If none of that appeals to you, and you just want a simple, visual experience, look at art, admire the stuff you like and ignore the stuff that leaves you cold. Looking at art is a lot like listening to music. It can be a deep, technical experience, or a simple, enjoyable way to pass time.
Is that really true? Because there seems to be an implicit hierarchy of art. It isn't all subjective, otherwise art critics would be out of work.
>Having said that, the best way to learn to appreciate visual art is to learn to sketch.
I'm not knocking visual art, in general. I'm a terrible painter, so I can certainly appreciate the tremendous skill and talent it requires to create a masterpieces. What I'm referring to is art that seems to be art, only because other say it's art. In the article, there's a photograph of a woman sitting in a lawn chair. Why is that art and a random photo of me doing the same thing, not?
My reaction upon seeing something like the lawn chair piece would not be to automatically reject, but instead it would be an increase in curiosity. Why is that woman sitting in the chair? Why is it happening in this venue? Why should I care? An artist is usually trying to evoke a response of some kind. WTF is a perfectly good response to get someone's attention. From most artists point of view, the worst possible reaction is indifference.
If I have any criticism about modern art is that the ideas often really aren't that new anymore; the vein has been mined pretty extensively. Doesn't mean the art isn't any good, or that it has nothing to say, just that the term "modern" has simply become another label for particularly type of movement that doesn't connect with its original meaning.
Languages change too ...
Labels, like "art" are human conventions. They are useful in the sense that they can communicate or convince. If you feel good about not calling a work "art", rejoice. But don't be surprised when other people who dig deeper might occasionally find something of note.
Sculpture professor whose class I modelled for: "Most people are going to completely ignore your work [that you spent weeks on, had your ego destroyed by peer criticism, fixed, put your soul into, etc] -- or look at it for about three seconds before moving on. If you can hold their attention longer -- if you can make them pause for an extra five seconds, and notice, or feel something, then you've succeeded." (He said this to students, not pre-acclaimed people whose work you're supposed to like because it has their name attached.)
Relatedly: If you can enrol in an art class (eg basic figurative drawing) it's a great growth experience. You'll also see what I saw: many levels of skill, an array of typical growth-paths, how artists are trained to conceive of their compositions (or of the human body), how very skilled kids can create something accurate-in-detail but totally uninteresting, and so on.
What's the difference between hearing a bunch of squealing and noise and ugly chords (=jazz) as a kid versus knowing how to play horn and wondering how jazz greats composed the atoms they did? (eg "abrupt, dramatic use of silence" by Thelonious Monk -- "how can you abruptly PAUSE?" you say) -- how a human might develop to the point (other than pure trolling) that they conceive of that composition. Not to mention a lot of technical details like what's easy/hard to do with a brush/chalk/charcoal/yarn/limestone/camera.
Certainly some people play games with an open-minded (=gullible), trusting audience (of potential buyers). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0NIs1fOkQg There's still plenty of great, subtle modern art that a 10-year-old would not appreciate but a 40-year-old could.
I think something equivalent could be said for programming (journey from modifying a script that already works to understanding the atoms of the language) and there's some close-enough statement that could be made for painting / visual art. The journey from imitation to atom-by-atom originality.
Other kinds of art are no different. Heck, most interesting things are no different. Try listing criteria to distinguish a good programming language from a bad one and see how many people you can get to agree with you.
Coincidentally I watched two docs recently that touch on the topic of what "modern art". "Exit through the Gift Shop" and "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?", both were pretty good.
Fast forward to the beginnings of modern art and what we have is people like Monet and Van Gogh who demonstrate that aesthetics are necessarily tied to photo-realism. This leads to an eventual explosion is aesthetic experimentation, much of who's purpose was not any expression of the 'truth' but rather experimentation for experimentation's sake. As time goes on, the art community develops a tight feedback loop which ultimately leaves behind the idea of clarity in favor of novelty and ultimately forgets about accessibility which used to be one of arts most important attributes.
Art as experimentation isn't a bad thing, but it's an attitude that is radically different from that only a century and a half ago. People of a conservative bent often miss the old attitude and you'll notice that when the Right-Wing governments of the 30's took over, the first thing they did was resurrect it. (Ironically, the Soviet Union also did this.)
I don't want to see reactions. I don't want to see an artist grappling with themes. I don't want to see an artist exploring new materials.
I want to see a master displaying his work that exemplifies concrete themes and ideas. In other words, I would like to see defined, finished works as opposed to ambiguous, ill refined quasi-ideas.
Maybe that's just me.
I also like masterworks, but I'm just as interested in the human process that produces the art.
On the other hand, collectors who are rich, dedicated, and informed are a huge component of the total money spent on modern art, and are big players (iconic example: the Guggenheims). They can end up having a tremendous influence on the art world.
Bottom line: don't feel sorry for art collectors. And if you collect art, buy what you like! Not what people tell you you ought to like!
Indeed, I worry less about it with art than most other things. Most art I've seen is produced by people who are sincere about it. Their art may be bad, or at least not my thing, but they're not going to spend a month making something without meaning to them.
I think most of the real scams in the art world are at the very high end. E.g., I think Damien Hirst is a marketing genius and a weak artist. Chihuly too. But if you're going to drop $10k-$10m on a piece of art, I'm just going to have to trust that you know what you're doing.
Their stock in trade is irony piled upon irony forever.
It can perhaps best be summarised by this scene from Nathan Barley, a comedy about a magazine which is basically Vice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLAm21GwfXw
Primarily the last bit.
"It is not that the public has failed art; it is art which has failed the public."
If anything, the only problem I see here is the reverse: Laymen are expecting that all those things should be instantly accessible to them with no work.
My point in calling it art is that I think it's art. And that it's a kind of art that readers here are equipped to appreciate because they are steeped in the history and practice of the medium. My hope being that people will then draw the analogy between that and kinds of art they don't have the context for. E.g., cutting-edge contemporary art.
As much as I would like to agree with you, but, no, it isn't.
At the end of the film Guetta himself is having this enormous underground art exhibit and famous people like Brad Pitt come! But Guetta is not an artist. It is obvious that he's posing. To say he's emulating his heroes is putting it very nicely. The guy is literally going around an abandoned warehouse throwing strange shit together for the sake of it being strange, calling it art, and then people eat it up going so far as to say he's a genius.
The point is, there was no context. It was strange for strange's sake but it got labelled as art. Everyone is an artist. We all have the ability to be creative and make our own art. That cannot be debated. But what can is how much of it really deserves recognition and what criteria does a work of art have to possess before we can hang it in a gallery and say "that's real art"? For me, real art has a message, it has skill, it is intentional, and the artist puts a genuine piece of themselves into it that you can just really sense. But I digress...
I highly recommend the film, it used to be on Netflix. I think it's a perfect compliment to this article.
This is exactly right, in my opinion.
There is obviously a continuum from 'bad' to 'good' art. If this is no obvious display of skill, then it is going to be towards the 'bad' end, no matter how much justification you try to slap on to it. A painting of a bowl of fruit, even when done with considerable skill, can also be bad if there is no message.
Can we not accept people having different views than us (and quite reasonable ones at that) without bringing up the BS notion of "trolling"?
Trolling is what 15 year olds do at 4chan, not what a normal, adult, blogger does in an extended post with various examples and arguments.
>That's art. But it's art that most people in the world can't begin to appreciate. You need years of coding experience to really get it. You need context. When hackers sit down and study those works of art, they're not just posing. A lot of modern art is like that.
No. The obfuscated C contest is more akin to traditionalist art. It's not conceptual and it needs serious chops. It's just that the presentation of it is twisted (so, more like Dali, or Archiboldo, etc...).
While I wish I was trolling you right now, I am being serious.
Is an article in Vice magazine. Their raison d'être is cultural trolling. I tend to like a lot of their articles, but you have to remember that they are a free magazine with a shit ton of very expensive advertising that feeds on controversy in an attempt to appear relevant to the rich bright young things that they try to court.
This is the same magazine that ran a review of the drug adderall by mailing some to a Canadian farmer and asking him how much work he managed to get done while high. - http://www.vice.com/read/farmer-v12n4 - They are not the most serious of people.
But it's also not 0%.
Fortunately, I don't need to care. The art qua art crowd are welcome to their signalling parties and occasional strokes of insight, and I'm welcome to think the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer was really rather artistic, and by and large we two need not even cross paths to growl and yip at each other like two little teacup poodles viciously defending their turf on the matter of whose definition of art is correct. Viva la freedom.
And like one might expect, I still only really "get" art that has a close enough analog to the work I do. So... sculpture? Right out.
And like others have brought up, art is contextual. One fundamental fallacy I see people make is that all pieces of work need to be conceptually complete and self-contained. A lot of good art can only be appreciated in aggregate.
FWIW, I don't "get" any of the art in the article either, save for the photograph of the woman. It's important to know that for photography geeks, it's often not about the subject, but rather about geometry, tonality, color, and more abstract notions. After all, there's a huge genre of photography dedicated to the everyday and the banal, whose only real claim to anything is beauty in composition and light.
As with all art though, there are territories that are incredibly facile, and therefore tend to be heavy-handed. Pictures of kissing couples, that "ring in a book with the shadow of a heart" thing wedding people use all the time, portraits of the homeless, etc etc. Stuff that's conceptually and technically been done to death, and IMO makes the artist appear more self-absorbed than anything else. Likewise, my gut reaction to the "money against the vagina" shot is "how obvious and ham-fisted", but that's just me. It's a me-too "exploration" of a topic that's been explored to death, without adding anything new to the concept or discourse.
In general, if you want art that you might find personal connection in, look at artists without an ego the size of the moon, and run far, far away from ones that do.
Like Picasso, Dali, Caravaggio and Michelangelo?
Yes, but I think the major difference between this and most modern artists that you'll find in galleries and museums is that photographers are far more likely to admit that their work is nothing but beauty in composition and light, without piling on claims of symbolic meaning or attributing some abstract concept.
I'm mostly indifferent to the work of most modern installation artists; it's the self-importance of it all that I bristle at.
Art is the ultimate example of social proof at work. Another great one is wine. I live in the Bordeaux winelands and the only difference between Premier Cru wines like Chateau Margaux at $400 a bottle and equally great non-premier cru wines is that everyone believes that Premier Cru is the best.
On the other hand I went to an art school for a year and met a lot of incredibly elitist wanna be into Klein and the like that would never show up in history of arts class where they could have learned why some weird paintings were important stepstones in art (but they were capable of admiring the piece for two hours in the museum, go figure).
Well... Let's get back in 1863, France for a little thought experiment:
s/Tate\ Modern/Salon\ des\ refusés/
s/Greenwich park/Jardin\ du\ Luxembourg/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_d%C3%A9jeuner_sur_l%27herbe That was a huge scandal at that time, people were screaming their children could draw better (yes, already in those times). Although a lot of social proof is going on as well it advanced art and few are calling it garbage nowadays.
To be clear I enjoy observatories much more than painting exhibition :)
Note: I think this wikipedia article lacks some important pieces of information and doesn't go very deep into the anlysis of that painting.
Appropriately, I remember "trash on floor" being one of the exhibits (second floor, I believe, just prior to the video montage of a gentleman's penis).
There is definitely a "snobbery of philistines" who want to not understand modern art because it isn't about pretty pictures. Making pretty pictures has been outdated in the 1840 by photography, and it's been nearly 100 years since Duchamps presented his "fountain".
If you like pretty pictures, there are people painting dolphins jumping in front of a full moon. Is that what you call art?
I don't understand how you can call out snobbery at the same time that you equate painting from life with dolphins jumping in front of a full moon, and imply that photography made life painting completely obsolete.
Yes, but it lacks the artist's purpose.
> I don't understand how you can call out snobbery at the same time that you equate painting from life with dolphins jumping in front of a full moon
Sorry about that; I fell prey to my own intellectual snobbery :)
> and imply that photography made life painting completely obsolete.
Photography made art as an imitation of reality obsolete, at least.
"The vertical strips in his paintings may relate to certain traditions that present God and man as a single beam of light. The name Adam, which in Old Testament was given to the first man, derives from the Hebrew word adamah (earth), but is also close to adom (red) and dam (blood). The relationship between brown and red in this painting may therefore symbolise man's intimacy with the earth."
I shit you not.
Video Of Naked Guy Punching Himself In The Face Repeatedly While His Genitals Wibble Back And Forth, for instance, has been put away.
But this is totally missing the forest for the trees. Art is ultimately about indulging in a perceptual experience. The true value of art is that it can do this not only by stimulating our senses in satisfying ways that are already familiar to us, but more so than this, art can fundamentally change the very way in which we perceive reality. Now it should be clear that in many cases even the definition of what constitute aesthetic beauty is fluid and often learned, as a result aesthetics become inseparably linked with the perception altering aspect of art.
This is what made the Renaissance artists truly great, not just more realistic looking pictures, but the shift in perception that allowed the realism to be seen. The invention of perspective is probably the best example and is such a fundamental shift we take it for granted today that perceiving it is not an innate ability but learned. As an example, people from cultures lacking contact with the modern world do not see realism in photography the way we do, they see what is actually in front of them: a flat surface with colourful smudges.
Realism has been done, it is fairly well established in the realm of the familiar. Many artists have moved on seeking new ways to open up and challenge our perceptions. It shouldn't come as a surprise that without foundation or context, the viewer sees nothing more than some "colourful smudges" in modern art.
This ability to make new things visible to us, is what makes art arguably as important to advancing our society as engineering or some other more "respectable" vocation.
All of this is not to say the world of art doesn't have its share of pretenders or rich people more interested in using art as display tokens of their status, rather than an actual interest in its meaning. However, it's very easy to succumb to the allure of denouncing anything we don't understand as therefore having no value.
The problem is that a lot of modern art, which includes some of the pieces in TFA, fails that definition as well because it relies too much on insider context. Art that is designed to be "understood" in a way that requires a 5-page explanation to someone not familiar with ideas and trends known only to people in the modern art industry is not a "perceptual experience", it's a riddle game with a very limited target audience.
Truly great art may have such aspects as well, but they take a backseat of the "perceptual experience" aspect, which makes it recognizable as art to almost everyone, even of they don't understand everything the artist did.
You're not completely correct when you say realism has been done. First of realism is alive and well today, but it's presence is diminished for good reason, most notably the camera. Nothing has changed the face of art quite like the invention of the camera, a great example of technology's transformative influence on culture.
PROTIP: Your idea of what makes for "good" art may not coincide with someone else's.
I just came home from the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival. I hung out and listened to this year's judges talking about their decision process. Some pieces were unanimous decisions, some were the subject of arguments, some went in the show because everyone had a strongly REVOLTED reaction to them. Art's a complicated thing.
No it's not. There are only 2 kinds of art: the one you like and the one you don't.
Taken from a larger point of view, it's incredibly complex. Particularly when it gets all tangled up with societies social systems that rely on art to identify cultural similarities and social patterns. After all, every middle schooler knows you better like insert band X or else you're a loser.
Good art (i.e. NOT Tracey Emin) challenges and rewards; it can
- expand your views beyond just coding
- challenge your opinions of yourself and humanity
- reward you for spotting complex references/patterns
- reward you for "solving" the meaning
- stimulate you purely by being visually beautiful
- make you sad/happy/joyous/nostalgic etc
- bring a new understanding viewpoint of important subject - especially politics, humanity
- make you laugh
- inspire you
- relax you… at worst if it's crap and you're staring at a wall for 3 mins, such a meditative break from work is good for you
I'd like to write a lot more about this (I've been contemplating "Introducing Modern Art for Hackers" post/series for a while) - @ me on twitter (same username as HN) if you think it'd be worth it.
EDIT: Three quick examples of accessible artists that give you much of the above: Antony Gormley, Jeremy Dellar, Gerhard Richter.
In some ways you could view it similar to the bleeding edge of scientific discoveries in that similarly many don't initially know what to do with them. Eventually overtime those discoveries are applied and brought to the masses through some form of productization.
Citation? I was there for (at least one corner of) the start of the current steampunk trend; to the best of my knowledge modern art() had nothing to do with it. Can you give me some examples of cultural trends and their modern-art precursors?
() In the sense that's being talked about here; a good number of those involved were people who painted or drew
For example the whole flash mob stuff got moving originally through performance artists trying to innovate. The underground music scene is another great one in that most of the stuff that gets integrated into the mainstream originally originated from niches of independents far removed from commercial music. Interactive artists probably don't get nearly enough attention by the HN crowd - a lot of them have been experimenting with all sorts of stuff. I can remember 5-10 years back some artists experimenting with peoples movement and technology - somewhat like rudimentary version of kinect.
Art is also very subjective. Some like simplicity, some like complexity. Some like clarity, some like stories and implicit context. Some like subdued colors, some like saturated hues.
This makes art very complicated. That is why art history exist.
One can interpret the whole ethos of the New York School of the postwar years in this way. Heroic individuals like Jackson Pollack striking out and defining whole genres of art, total opposite of the dreary collective approach of the Soviets.
This does not make the art invalid, suspect, or whatever. It should challenge us to look beyond the canonical figures, and to maintain an independent perspective on their work.
Much like how a bad joke need to be explained and people ignore and get annoyed by bad elevator music. But, feel free to listen to that used car salesman selling that just like new 1971 pinto.
Picasso's most famous work, Guernica, has many contexts to which it can be interpreted—not least of which the Spanish Civil War, upon which it is a meditation. Yet, for me, the only context that matters is that I think that Picasso's Cubist period (of which Guernica is a part) is a horrible waste of his talent, which is much better demonstrated in his blue period.
Basically, I don't care for Cubist work. Inconsistent, I know, because I happen to love the Surrealism in Dalí's work.
My favorite story about Guernica, no idea if it's true or not, concerns the time when Picasso was living in Paris during the German occupation. The Gestapo like to visit his studio and harass him, but he was just a bit too internationally famous for them to just eliminate him.
One visit the SS guy was walking around, berating Picasso about his degenerate art when he came across a postcard of Guernica. (At that time the painting had an international reputation and was being held in America for safe keeping.)
The Gestapo guy picked up the postcard and shook it at Picasso and asked, "Did you do this?"
To which Picasso replied, "Oh no, you did."
I read it on the internet and heard it on TV, so it must be a true story.
Edit: Here's Simon Schama telling the story on a BBC documentary on art: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVycXNUh6YU
Saying that you don't like something or don't understand something is cool. No one likes or understands everything.
Most art has a narrative behind it and to really understand what the artist is about you do have to know that narrative. Now a lot of older art, or art designed for a purely visual experience can become disassociated from its narrative and still appreciated. Or we can bring a new narrative to it.
This is not a new thing. It's always been that way in art. A lot of old art is appreciated for aspects that would confuse or even outrage its creators. (Also, a lot of old "junk" or popular art is now appreciated when in its day it was considered throwaway and trivial.)
Most people don't really care about the political situation in France in the mid 19th century. At least not the extent that they pick sides. But we can still appreciate Daumier's satiric political prints because we bring a new narrative to it. We can see ourselves and our current situations in it.
A lot of modern art is about art and the whole process of communication, perception, and expression. As such, the narrative can get pretty self referential and abstract. Recursive to a high degree. (I'll admit, after too many iterations, I start to loose interest myself.)
One way to look at a lot of modern art is to understand that it operates a bit like satire, only the without the joke aspect. Though not always. A lot of it is actually pretty funny if you can follow the conceit. Whether this is interesting to you or worth the effort is a personal choice or preference. Another way to look at some modern art is to approach it like jazz. It is artist riffing on themes and ideas that other artists have done. Again, a knowledge of the works being referenced is usually helpful.
No one said liking art was going to be easy.
But don't automatically assume that because someone else likes it, they aren't sincere or are chumps.
Edit: It just occurred to me that possibly the best way to explain art to the Hacker News crowd is to say that art is like hacking. Hacking perception. Hacking expression. Hacking communication. It doesn't have to have a point, though it might. You do it because you can, because you want to, or because you need to. Or, possibly the most fun, because you shouldn't.
However, I've always made an effort to exercise the left side of my brain for balance. I played cello for a decade in childhood and toured Europe; currently, I compete in salsa performance (after having been the most lead-footed lame dancer four years ago).
What I've learned is that expressing my creativity allows for introspection. The expression of oneself through music, art, dance, etc. culminates like the completion a programming project, albeit using a different set of skills. While the extrospective nature of art galleries and concerts is exciting as an artist, it more provides a denouement of ones introspection as a project draws to a close.
Making this realization allows you to enjoy galleries and concerts more. It doesn't have to do with what is produced. These expressions of self allow you a direct route into the thoughts and feelings of the artist, and suddenly the question becomes 'why' more so than 'what.'
Heading back to 'hacking,' the most successful engineers, scientists, and programmers I know balanced the technical and the creative, and the latter allowed for approaching a project from a unique perspective.
My comments and arguments may sound abstract, but I do not present them as fact. I just request that you keep an open mind - do not view 'different' as inferior; instead, view it with an open mind.
Maybe the author is going after the wrong kind of art. Not all of it needs a manual.
I've often contemplated writing a blog post titled "Art analysis for the uninitiated". If you'd be interested please let me know.
Some analysis from an art student:
1st piece with the flowers: This looks to be an homage to still life paintings. Still lifes are about the cycle of life; Birth, Life, and Death. Seems pretty straightforward to me but then again I'm "initiated".
2nd piece with the woman in the desert: I couldn't tell you exactly what the artist was looking to portray but to debunk the "how quickly they'd be skipping over this photo if it was in their mom's holiday snapshots" line, I'd assume that is exactly the point. See Duchamp's Urinal fountain for more along this idea of "things out of traditional context".
the 4th piece (film): Art is either done without reason or with specific reason. The chairs, the screen and the video all have a reason for being the way that they are. It's your choice to interpret this but don't dismiss what the artist is saying because you are scared to "look like a twat".
I can go on and on but I think I've made my point. This has meaning. It may not be valuable to you but then again no one forced you to view this art.
Oh, HN. You take everything so seriously. It's VICE!
p.s. Of course, Dadaists were doing it on purpose: gosh, I love that movement. The fur-covered cup may be my favorite piece of art ever.
It's good to see that the irony of VICE has been largely lost on the HN crowd here as we discuss what makes "good" art. Haha.
I'm starting to think he just likes to bash the idea of people expressing themselves in any way shape or form. His guide provided thoughtful insight and he just continued to have the "Holier-than-thou/na-na-nah-not-listening" attitude throughout.
PS: A few artists and art historians have mentioned that with the decline of the patronage system few people would pay for art that took a log time to create. And with the invention of photo's artists needed to create a steady stream of original works with minimal effort. Thus, modern art with a focus on emotions that side steps the need for a lot of time on any one piece.
In no way, shape, or form is "My cunt is wet with fear" beautiful. This is simply an artist trying to be shocking and radical, but without the courage to actually do so in a meaningful way, is simply couching it in "art".
I would argue that much of modern art (not to be confused with abstract art) is simply an excuse for the artists to be ridiculous without reprimand. If you look at the art of da Vinci, or Raphael, or even some modern artists (One could argue John Mayer's skill with a guitar constitutes art) they did not need to be shocking to have an impact- their work stood on its own.*
That, I guess, would be the crux of the matter. All these other comments explaining that we don't get the "context" or that we simply need to "understand the background" are more or less re-iterating the foolishness found in The Emperor's New Clothes. Art is meant to stand alone. The Mona Lisa does not require context to appreciate it's nuance of color, and the skill with which the expression is painted. Andy Warhol's (in?)famous Campbell's Soup Cans can be lauded on their symmetry and juxtaposition of color alone, while incorporating the mundane into the abstract. The Sistine Chapel can be admired simply by the scale and breadth of the murals within, not excluding the skill with which they were painted, or the beautiful imagery. I've even had non-religious friends admire it more than my religious ones.
One cannot simply say that "you don't get it". Beauty does not need "to be got". Beauty is inherent, and all perspective simply does is skew the appreciation of the beauty. I don't have to like Picasso to appreciate it, just as I don't have to like jazz to appreciate the beauty in syncopation.
Even if you do not agree with me, we can all concur that true art will stand the test of time. So I ask you, do you see people talking about this exhibit 20 years from now?
*This is not to say that bodies of work cannot heighten appreciation, or lend further enlightenment upon the individual works, however a broken bridge, a looped video, a sentence set in neon and various pots placed on pedestals does not constitute a cohesive body of work.
With that definition, yes, "my cunt is wet with fear" would not qualify as art. However, there are a variety of definitions of art. Look at Tolstoy - he says something is art if there's an emotional link between the audience and the artist, or at least, that an art piece "affected" a viewer. In that definition, the emotive reaction of the "my cunt is wet with fear piece" (one of disgust and confusion) could qualify it as art.
There are different degrees of that - obviously modern art attempts to represent the essence much more abstractly than, say, impressionism. And some artists accomplish this better than others (in fact only a very few do it really well - the 100x engineer theory applies to artists as well). But as with programming, there is a logic to all of it.
In fact, if you look at the history of Art, the progression appears to be from less abstract to more abstract. Probably because it's harder to do well, and takes time and experience for techniques like Cubism to emerge.
But once you start looking at all art from that framework, it starts making a lot more sense.
Why? There's a lot of differing definitions of art, but the one I like the most is Tolstoy's: art is about creating an emotional connection between the artist and the viewer .
Abstract art is made with this minimalist principle in mind - that one does not need to be realistic or even confined within the limitations of conventional artistic styles to develop an emotional connection with a viewer. That is, the viewer doesn't need to "understand" or compare a piece to reality to have an emotion from it.
For the most part, I think that classical art is enjoyed by those without an artistic background because there's at least an appreciation for the time and mastery invested into each piece. However, many people mistakenly believe that this appreciation is "getting" art. After all, you think "wow, that must have taken forever" when you see the Sistine Chapel.
However, that's just one emotion art can give you and it's a mistake to limit art to that. It's this belief that caused pieces that are potted plants on pedestals or red squares on large canvases to be alienating - "dude, I/my five-year-old could have done that!"
So let me put it this way - there's no such thing as "getting" art. Either it made you feel something or it didn't.
Really? I'm a non-artist and I find all that old stuff (pre Turner I guess) extremely boring. How many frikking paintings of the Virgin Mary and Jesus do I have to endure. They all look the same to me, same even with the Dutch masters fruit and skulls. (Wow, how interesting, a pear. Not.)
OTOH, maybe if I had some education I would appreciate the historical significance (see, she's raising her left pinky? That was a snub to the patron)
That's distinct from the feeling, and just as valuable to me.
Some might say Tracey Emin is a bad artist. But I think here message is very clear: pain from being raped and losing 2 kids. It's a sad message.
Like Hugh MacLeod (gapingvoid) I like to say: "Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time.".
The painting was Picasso’s Guernica . Years after my friend told me that this single event had a significant impact on his life.
So my opinion is that if art needs explaining then it’s not art.
Reactions like that article are exactly what that kind of art wants to provoke.
Not that I personally have a nerve for it...
Also it reminds me about an analysis of the popularity of football that I read yesterday: football is popular because it is irrelevant. You can get high on emotions without any side effects on your real life. Maybe some "art" servers the same kind of purpose. The article also states that football is approaching the popularity of "weather" as a conversation topic.
The thing that sets art apart from mundane examples of communication (such as perhaps instructions for a tax form) is that art typically is evocative of emotions and feelings. Or perhaps complex thoughts that must be arrived at indirectly.
Art is really no more complicated than that. But there is so many different ways to achieve communication through different forms. Sometimes people are prone to over-simplify art, or to try to make art objective, or to try to make a firm boundary between "high art" and mundane art, but none of that is possible. Art is inter-personal, and can mean different things to different people. Guernica, for example, could have a different impact depending on ones personal exposure to warfare and violence. And that of course means that trying to put in place objective standards about subjective communication is fool-hardy at best, as is trying to create some sort of ranking.
You don't have to like all art and it's fine if not everyone likes the art you like.
It's fascinating to me that the same applies to cuisine and we accept it just fine. Some people like sushi, some people don't, some people like steak, some people are vegetarians. Art is the same way. Liking some types of art may make you appear more sophisticated in some circles (such as liking red wine and salmon vs twinkies and big macs) but in the end it's all just personal preference.
Most people look at art as if they are portfolio pieces in dribbble.com. (Hmm, I like this icon, Hmm, I don't like that color). But art does not merely reproduce the beauty of forms, instead, it gives language to the "soul" so that it may speak.
Protip: Keep an open mind.
In other words, demonstrating one's affinity (or non-affinity) to a particular group becomes more important than demonstrating individual skills/virtuosity. Nietzsche (whom so many contemporary artists adore, btw) would have some harsh words on such herd mentality.
But you raise an interesting point. I'm not sure if groups form because of herd mentality, or if there are parallels in perceiving the modern world. It's hard to say.
If I remember correctly, the early Nietzsche (in Birth of Tradegy) discussed the Dionynsian ideal of an artist -- which in his spiritual ecstasy he turns himself into a work of art. It's a very modern concept, in some sense expressed in Tracey Emin's work.
I like your example of art as naming the unnamed. It's similar to Paul Klee's "art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible".
I don't think rational/irrational are two separate realms. Personally I believe the totality of "existence" is an open system - so you seek connections of what you know with a rational mind, and you push the boundaries of what you don't know using intuition.
(And no, I'm not quoting Rumsfeld)
I don't understand how ordinary language can't give language to the soul so that it may speak. Especially if what the soul wants to say is something like "I am hungry."
Not sure what you mean by "ordinary" language though. If you want to express hunger in a way that is not indifferent, how would you say it?
Emin's famous "unmade bed" is actually very ordinary. But when you see it in the exhibition (not a photo), it says something interesting (to me) about privacy and modern life, that even a long essay cannot express.
In contrast, a "retina" ipad icon may look extraordinary, but it doesn't tell me anything interesting.
To me, that's the difference between art and design. Just a thought.
I liked their 'Vice guide to...' travel documentaries though.
Perhaps I don't 'get' VICE.
(edit) although having said that, art openings are one of my least favourite things imaginable. I just don't blog about them afterwards.
But for any geeks/intelectual types (most HN'ers I'd assume) it's not going to push your boundaries given that it's having to aim at a some-what mass-market appeal.
As it goes, I still find some of it to an enjoyable and thought provoking read at times
Yes, art is whatever you want it to be. As soon as someone intends something to be art, then it is so. But that gives it no higher status than anything else. However, a good piece of art usually is interesting, elicits emotion, and enriches the consumer. These are fairly subjective terms but they can still be roughly gauged within the context of the culture.
Anytime someone asks, "Is this art?", just say, "Yes, of course it is, and it is good/bad art because of x/y/z." Don't let that question distract you from what is actually at hand, rather than semantics.
Think about pop music, and your feelings towards it. Many of my peers think that much of pop music is usually a bunch of crap and hardly ever listen to the radio (myself included). People love to proclaim which music is 'the best' and which music 'sucks', and they also love to argue about it endlessly. But if you look at this from a logical standpoint, you are a dog chasing your own tail if you want to argue about music opinions. You are pitting opinion against opinion, and there is nothing concrete to support either side, which makes it an utterly stupid and useless argument to have.
Let's add some logic to the music argument, then, to actually make it productive. Here's a good metric - which musician has the most fans and makes the most money off their music. If this is the metric you are viewing it from, you could most certainly say that pop is technically the "best" music out there, then prove it with numbers. And there would be no debating it.
But I bet there are a lot of people squirming to disagree with me at this point. And they wouldn't be wrong. Perhaps popularity isn't the metric that defines the word "best". In fact, the word "best" is a stupid word to use in arguments overall. Just replace that with "most popular", "most lucrative", or "my personal favorite", and we have an argument that can actually be carried out in a civil manner and solidly proven.
The words "good" and "best" ALWAYS mean "in my opinion, good" and "in my opinion, the best". And like music, art is all about opinions. You can call anything art, and you can call anything crap. If you can convince enough people to think your art is "good", it will then likely become more popular and lucrative. This part of it is all about psychology, and taking advantage of people and their emotions.
My personal opinion about art is that it is a piece that evokes emotion in the viewer and sends some message about the world that the artist is trying to get across. The "better" in my opinion the art is, the higher the percentage of viewers get this message, and the stronger it resonates with them.
Hope this helps...
He talks about the evolution of art toward something that can only be appreciated if you know the theory behind it, and also about the interplay of the (poor) artist and the (rich) patron and the psychological aspects of what the patron it buying (often: they get to be an "insider", with the whole notion of being an insider being something that the artist has constructed.)
It is absolutely fantastic.
I have no such belief that the rest of this 'show' illuminates anything in the human spirit except foulness...
"I paint objects as I think them not as I see them." - Pablo Picasso
"Art is what you can get away with." - Andy Warhol
I do not buy the "this isn't art, I can do this. art requires skill" train of thought. firstly, if we appreciate skill then we are not appreciating art. we are appreciating a craft. to appreciate art we must appreciate creativity. who's the artist: the engineer or the architect? the engineer has more skill, but i'd say the architect.
Secondly, let's assume that the "art requires skill" argument is correct. hence, a white painting is not art. but then what's the converse. is photorealistic painting (when a painting looks as though it were a photograph) the best art? because it contains the best skill at imitating reality? because I would say Michelangelo or Rembrandt are far superior to any photorealistic painter (try to name one).
Lastly, here's an interesting spin on modern art: it has a greater effect on you than regular art does. You've probably had a lot of conversations about modern art but little about real art. And it has a greater emotional effect on people (generally anger or disdain) than regular art, which usually leads to boredom. After all, I bet there are tons of blog posts on modern art like this one. I doubt there are many on the Old Masters. Modern art challenges us, makes us think more, and make use talk more.
Imitating reality is not the only skill. I can look at e.g. Seurat and see that it takes more skill to produce something that looks like that than to do a photorealistic version of the same scene.
>Lastly, here's an interesting spin on modern art: it has a greater effect on you than regular art does. You've probably had a lot of conversations about modern art but little about real art. And it has a greater emotional effect on people (generally anger or disdain) than regular art, which usually leads to boredom
Sounds exactly like trolls on the internet.
I don't see why an engineer cannot be an artist, particularly if everything is art.
What makes a guy who draws blobs or squares on a canvas his ENTIRE career, sell paintings for a million dollars while another guy who draws blobs or squares is never heard from? Is it really all about the end product, or is it more about the relationships? And if it's the latter, then what is "artistic" about the paintings when it's about knowing the right people at the right time?
Tracey Emin is a troll.
Don't waste your life looking at art you don't like.
Of course, appreciating some of these things has some social benefits. And of course, in each such case, you can just fake it.
Think of how often you have to explain something to someone when they react unfavorably. The problem with the pieces in this collection is that they are lazy. They don't come from a sense of expression; they use shock value to get their effect, and the result is often met with hostility.
I had a similar reaction when I saw a fluorescent light on the wall as a piece in the Met in NYC.
Seriously, maybe it's because I'm really a hacker that was interested in design but "Art" as in the starving/gallery kind is 99% crap - 1% mind blowing.
"Art is anything you can get away with."
Or, in other words, it's about making money out of crap, sometimes literally.
The problem is that a lot of these artists don't get art. They are confused about their role in life, and they go round wasting their time making things that rich people wouldn't want on their walls. And that's just pointless and sad.
The artists that I respect try hard to subvert that system or exist outside it. They produce street art, ephemeral or illegal installations, billboard liberations, surreal events, art that is miles and miles away from populated places, things that aren't obviously art but look more like technology, and so on. I think my favorite art-thing of the past decade was Swoon's Swimming Cities, where she lashed together boats made of artfully arranged junk and floated down rivers with a motley crew of performers.
Of course this kind of art can be commoditized too, but it's more resistant.
This Emin person has gained tons of attention by displays so ridiculous that people thought they must be brilliant since no one had thought of doing something so utterly devoid of talent before.
From the Wikipedia article:
"In 1999 she was a Turner Prize nominee and exhibited My Bed — an installation, consisting of her own unmade dirty bed with used condoms and blood-stained underwear."
And engineers are supposed to be the scruffy, smelly disgusting masses of humanity.
Each to their own. Some may see weeds growing in cracks on the side of the road and think it looks messy and needs poison. I always see the evolution of life, incredible ways that dog-eat-dog life in a godless world can see some measure of success against the odds and think about how a weed may be different to different people. (Then I poison it.)
"The name 'Stuckism' was coined in January 1999 by Charles Thomson in response to a poem read to him several times by Billy Childish. In it, Childish recites that his former girlfriend, Tracey Emin had said he was 'stuck! stuck! stuck!' with his art, poetry and music."